Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
City and County officials stood beside developers Tuesday evening to celebrate the grand opening of The Flats at Big Tex, Southtown’s newest mixed-use development that features 336 apartments and townhomes on the San Antonio River’s Eagleland and Mission reaches.
A majority of the ground floor’s 6,400 sq. ft. of retail space will be occupied by two restaurants owned by Chef Johnny Hernandez – Villa Rica and Burger Teca.
The 7.5-acre former industrial site was developed by NRP Group in partnership with James Lifshutz, who also owns the adjacent Blue Star Arts Complex. The project, which broke ground in October 2014, gets its name and some of its structure from the Big Tex Grain Company, which moved out in the 1950s. Only a few of the stout silos that once hosted early First Fridays remain.
NRP Group representatives said the space is designed to be more “like a street instead of one building,” and aims to create a sense of community and highlight the nearby river as an amenity.
“We were really purposeful in trying to link the property to the river trail,” Mark Jensen, NRP Group vice president of development told the Rivard Report.
While Big Tex has been leasing units since last spring, Jensen said there are still vacancies.
Other amenities in the complex include a pool, a fitness center, two dog parks, an open area with game tables, a demonstration kitchen, and a common area with a view of the downtown skyline.
Big Tex also features a partnership with the Blue Star Contemporary art museum. Eighteen art pieces from the gallery can be found scattered throughout the property, all created by a local artist or an artist personally connected to Blue Star. The leasing office features the most prominent piece, a 45-by-12 foot large-scale print by Thomas Cummins that shows the property before it was redeveloped.
Along with having the ability to easily hop onto the riverside pedestrian and bike trail or explore the surrounding burgeoning Southtown Arts District, Big Tex will bring other retail amenities to the neighborhood once tenants are selected.
The remaining retail spot at Big Tex has yet to be filled, Jensen said, but the NRP Group has been in talks with a few other possible tenants, which range from coffee shops to bike shops.
“We’re trying to find the right fit for the neighborhood,” Jensen said, “and we want it to be something that caters to the folks that are on the trail on a regular basis.”
Burger Teca, which Hernandez anticipates opening around the second week of March, will feature affordable “Mexico-inspired burgers” along with ice cream, nieves, and paletas.
“We’ll showcase lots of different flavors that are very authentic Mexican flavors,” said Hernandez, who plans to make all of the bread, ice cream, and syrups for the shaved ice in-house.
Hernandez, who has been fleshing out the Burger Teca concept for the past five or so years, said Southtown is the perfect place to launch the unique restaurant, which will be “more casual and low key” but also “very innovative and cutting-edge.”
“I think it’s going be a special place in Southtown where lots of people will come visit, hang out, have ice cream, and get a good, fresh burger,” Hernandez said.”You can get the traditional American classic-style burger but were also going to have something very creative and unique to try.”
Right next door to Burger Teca will be Hernandez’s Villa Rica, which will feature Mexican seafood. The menu will primarily include gulf-style seafood but Hernandez also plans on incorporating cuisine popular along the Pacific Ocean.
Villa Rica, another restaurant concept that Hernandez has been saving for the right moment, is inspired by his friend’s restaurants of the same name in Veracruz, Mexico. Big Tex’s Villa Rica will be its own unique brand in the U.S., but Hernandez still plans to incorporate some of his friend’s family recipes alongside a variety of other dishes that will be unique to the San Antonio restaurant.
“We’re going to give it a lot of San Antonio love and make sure that we create something that San Antonio is going to understand and appreciate,” he said. Villa Rica is set to open in April 2017.
Southtown is already home to various art galleries, bars and restaurants, and small businesses, but there has been increased interest in the area over the past few years.
Soon, developers will break ground on the $300 million Lone Star redevelopment project, which will involve rehabilitating the old Lone Star Brewing Company to include three multi-family housing developments, retail and office spaces, a hotel, a park connecting to the Mission Reach, and a movie theater.
The NRP Group envisions Big Tex, which still contains several original property features such as a large grain silo, to be one of the key residential options in Southtown as the area continues to evolve.